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Burning Bright
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Burning Bright

3.3 35
by Tracy Chevalier

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From the author of the international bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring and At the Edge of the Orchard, comes a stirring eighteenth-century coming-of-age tale

In the waning days of eighteenth-century London, poet, artist, and printer William Blake works in obscurity as England is rocked by the shock waves of the French Revolution. Next


From the author of the international bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring and At the Edge of the Orchard, comes a stirring eighteenth-century coming-of-age tale

In the waning days of eighteenth-century London, poet, artist, and printer William Blake works in obscurity as England is rocked by the shock waves of the French Revolution. Next door, the Kellaway family has just moved in, and country boy Jem Kellaway strikes up a tentative friendship with street-savvy Maggie Butterfield. As their stories intertwine with Blake's, the two children navigate the confusing and exhilarating path to adolescence, and inspire the poet to create the work that enshrined his genius.

Editorial Reviews

The author of Girl with a Pearl Earring returns with another engrossing, realistic historical novel, this one set in the final decade of the 18th century. Burning Bright follows Thomas Kellaway and his family as they migrate from rural Dorset to London, where Thomas has found work as a circus carpenter and builder. The novel foregrounds the experiences of Kellaway's son Jem and his pretty sister Maisie as they adjust with varying degrees of success to urban life and the vicissitudes of adulthood. As in her previous novels, Chevalier mixes historical characters and her own creations; among the real people vividly portrayed here are circus pioneer Philip Astley and radical poet/engraver William Blake.
Nicholas Delbanco
If you believe in urchins happily united in the country dusk and reciting Blake to each other, then this book will persuade. Chevalier's villains are deep-dyed villains, her good people blindingly good; they go from innocence to experience with scarcely a hitch in their stride.
— The Washington Post
Chicago Sun-Times
A novel teeming with the complexities of life . . . Chevalier has a fine eye for detail and delightfully captures the sights, smells, and sounds of an earlier time.
The Times (London)
A visual delight.
The Boston Globe
Chevalier's writing is most lively and supple when depicting adolescent sexuality. Indeed, this novel could comfortably be classified as juvenile fiction—a very honorable genre. . . . If she succeeds in acquainting a new generation with the rapturous work of William Blake on the eve of the 250th anniversary of his birth, she can take pride in her accomplishment.
Chevalier's signature talent lies in bringing alive the ordinary day-to-dayness of the past . . . lovingly evoked.
Entertainment Weekly
Chevalier masterfully evokes a sense of working class life . . . [in] French Revolution– era London.
Time Out London
A wonderfully vivid portrait of eighteenth-century London.
Publishers Weekly
Author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, set in the home/studio of Vermeer, and other novels, Chevalier turns in an oblique look at poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827). Following the accidental death of their middle son, the Kellaways, a Dorsetshire chair maker and family, arrive in London's Lambeth district during the anti-Jacobin scare of 1792. Thomas Kellaway talks his way into set design work for the amiable circus impresario Philip Astley, whose fireworks displays provide the same rallying point that the guillotine is providing in Paris. Astley's libertine horseman son, John, sets his sights on Kellaway's daughter, Maisie (an attention she rather demurely returns). Meanwhile, youngest surviving Kellaway boy Jem falls for poor, sexy firebrand Maggie Butterfield. Blake, who imagined heaven and hell as equally incandescent and earth as the point where the two worlds converge, is portrayed as a murky Friar Laurence figure whose task is to bind and loosen the skeins of young love going on around him-that is, until a Royalist mob intrudes into his garden to sound out his rather advanced views on liberty, equality and fraternity. While the setting is dramatically fertile, there's no spark to the dialogue or plot, and allusions to Blake's work and themes are overbaked. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Late 17th-century London comes alive in this latest offering from Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring). After a tragic death in the family, the Kellaways are persuaded by a traveling circus owner to move to the bustling city, where they discover that they live next door to the famous William Blake: printer, poet, and political radical. A streetwise girl named Maggie befriends the youngest boy, Jem, and their coming-of-age adventures eventually provide material for Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. In addition, the French Revolution has made everyone jittery, and the family is soon caught up in the excitement and uncertainty of political unrest; they also face economic hardship, struggling daily to earn enough to stay together. Chevalier's vivid descriptions and unusual mix of characters make this story an easy pleasure to read. The Blake connection, however, feels contrived and distracts from the plot, which weakens and loses steam after such a strong beginning-a minor quibble for fans of the genre or the author. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/06.]-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A colorful historical novel considers the perils of life in 18th-century England. Georgian London might itself be the biggest character in Chevalier's latest (after The Lady and the Unicorn, 2004, etc.). Rogues and bounders, larger-than-life benefactors and unworldly country folk populate a story that gives prominence to a fictional portrait of William Blake but devotes many of its pages to the broad social panorama-circuses and mustard factories, Bedlam and Bunhill Fields Burying Ground. The Kellaway family has just arrived from rural Dorset after a death in the family. Thomas Kellaway, a chairmaker, has been offered work by circus entrepreneur Philip Astley: The Kellaway's son, Jem, assists his father with the carpentering, when not distracted by street-wise Maggie Butterfield; pretty daughter Maisie yearns for Astley's handsome, heartless son John. The Blakes live nearby in Lambeth, and Jem becomes acquainted with the kindly radical poet and engraver who sometimes wears a red cap in support of the revolution taking place in France. Not much happens: John tries to seduce Maisie; Maggie reveals a violent past; a mob attacks the Blakes for their politics. Chevalier echoes (and quotes from) Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, aspects of which are reflected in her characters, especially the various ruined or near-ruined women. Eventually, the Kellaways go home to Dorset, Astley joins the war in France and Maggie reveals a heart of gold. A story rich in background but lacking a compelling center.
From the Publisher
Praise for Tracy Chevalier

"Evokes entire landscapes...a master of voices."
New York Times Book Review (on Falling Angels)

"Absorbing...[Chevalier] creates a world reminiscent of a Vermeer interior: suspended in a particular moment, it transcends its time and place."
—The New Yorker (on Girl With a Pearl Earring)

“Chevalier admirably weaves historical figures and actual events into a compelling narrative.”
San Francisco Chronicle (on Remarkable Creatures)

"Chevalier's signature talent lies in bringing alive the ordinary day-to-dayness of the past...lovingly evoked."
Elle (on Burning Bright)

"Chevalier's ringing prose is as radiantly efficient as well-tended silver."
Entertainment Weekly (on Falling Angels)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Meet the Author

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

"I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

Brief Biography

London, England
Date of Birth:
October 19, 1962
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994

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Burning Bright 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
BeenToBaliToo More than 1 year ago
Although I am very much a Chevalier fan, this book misses the mark. I couldn't tell what the point of the book was until about three quarters of the way through. And, even at the end, it left me feeling like the entire read was a waste of time. However, I highly recommend all Chevalier's other books!
just-a-thot More than 1 year ago
This is about William Blake, and young people who live around him. It is very realistic historically, however, I didn't care for the poetry within the story. A very good story though, if you can skip the poetry.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading Girl with a Pearl Earring, I bough up following novels by Chevalier. Loved them. Did not hesitate to buy Burning Bright without even reviewing it. I am very disappointed in this one. Will not even finish it. Nowhere near the complex, rich stories in former novels. She relies on all the sounds and smells of this old world to give color and atmosphere. However, the story and characters just do not matter. The whole thing seems very amateurish to me. Sorry. Hope Chevalier redeems herself with next novel. Please !
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was a bit skeptical reading this book after i read the reviews, but after reading it I loved it. I think it was one of her best novels, she gave life to all the characters and the time frame. I couldn't put it down. It reminded me of my favorite novel by her (Girl with a Pearl Earring), the way she used some part of history as a back drop of the story. This time using a person, William Blake, in Girl with a Pearl Earring using the picture. I recomend any Tracy Chevalier fan to read this, her flawless style comes alive in this book.
MELKI More than 1 year ago
For a writer I truly like, this book was rather dissapointing. So the real rating is two and half stars. There's something lacking in this book. I didn't totally dislike it but didn't like it that much either. As for the other reviews, you can notice some praise it and some say it's not a good piece of fiction. Personally, I think it is in between. It has some good things but, all in all, it doesn't satisfy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent Read Especially for Chevalier Fans! Of all Tracy Chevalier's novels this is probably my favorite. The plot, which weaves several very interesting story lines together, follows a smalltown working class family's adjustment to London in the late 18th century. It is filled with adventure and excitement. Each family member has his or her own colorful and unique experiences as well as their own share of pain and transforming life lessons. Romance is a major theme, particularly for the eldest son, Jem, who shares innocent young love with the sassy, spit fire Maggie. As usual, Chevalier provides exquisitely vivid details throughout, and the period was clearly well-researched.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a Tracy Chevalier fan - love her attention to time period detail. This was not my favorite of her works, but it is well-researched.
Rich-NH More than 1 year ago
The cover copy on the book talked about how these children influenced William Blake. He's at best a minor supporting character in the book. Even with that disappointment this title was far less engaging and interesting than her other books like Remarkable Creatures.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
littlebear514 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and it made me interested in the works of William Blake.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 - 24 March 1603) <>> I havent even read this book yet, was reading reviews trying to decide if I want to read it... when I saw the "Queen Elizabeth I" comment I had to say something... Dont trash a book if you cant even read it... Intelligent comments help people like me decide if they want to read a book... that one single comment about the dates of Queen Elizabeth made me want to read this book all the more...
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